10A062 Privacy by Jim Davies, 11/3/2010

One of the best bits of news I saw this week was that people in China value privacy.

Perhaps you're better informed, but I must admit to a lot of ignorance about China. It's very populous, very ancient, and quite secretive; its people produce goods with amazingly high value and recently have become much better off than they were and this year the Forbes China Rich List identified 49 billionaires, a number second only to the USA, who have made fortunes in real estate and health care. Last week I noticed that my (German) Krups coffee maker was "fabriqu en Chine" and recently on eBay I bought a very nice quality fountain pen for about $7 including postage from Hong Kong. Detractors may call China the "sweatshop" of the world, but in the long term hard work does tend to produce wealth.

But... privacy? Evidently so; the CSM article above references "Chinese citizens’ rising sense of privacy and a reluctance to tell the government their personal details." Apparently a census is under way, and just as we resented the US Census earlier this year, the same resentment is being expressed there. Splendid! So even after centuries of oppression (half a century of Communism was just its most recent manifestation) Chinese retain a "sense of privacy." Wonderful!

That sense is integral to being human. We each own ourselves, therefore we alone decide how much of ourselves to reveal to others. Any information dragged out of us against our will is a violation of that fundamental, human self-ownership right; it's theft of our very persons. Since government cannot function without such information, we have another proof that government and human nature are permanently irreconcilable.

The particular occasion of the Chinese census illustrates that principle: for over thirty years, it's been a criminal offense there to have more than one child. Think of that! A baby, a crime. Can there be anything about government that's more obscene? (Yes, alas there can; it's called waging war. But this comes close.) So naturally, the law has been flouted and the census would reveal the crime, hence the strong stimulus to protect privacy. That one-child policy has of course other major ill-effects, including a serious population imbalance that will plague China shortly as the deprived parents retire, without enough in the workforce to support them. The recent unrest in France may be nothing compared to what will soon appear in China.

Marketers, too, like to have information so they can plan effectively. I've noticed that after a purchase at Amazon.com, I get emails offering goodies similar to what I bought; that's intelligent. Since one cannot buy a gizmo without the seller being aware of it, and particularly since Amazon can do me no harm, I have no objection at all to that. But government, with its monopoly of unaccountable force, can do me a great deal of harm, and that's why it's important that it learns as little as possible. And that very same sense is being felt in China too. It's enough to restore one's faith in humanity.

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